Tag Archives: GIS

May 6: Best from the blogosphere

A look at the best of the Internet, from an SPP point of view

Tax-free pension plans may offer a new pathway to retirement security: NIA

With workplace pensions becoming more and more rare, and Canadians generally not finding ways to save on their own for retirement, it may be time for fresh thinking.

Why not, asks Dr. Bonnie-Jeanne MacDonald of the National Institute on Ageing, introduce a new savings vehicle – a tax-free pension plan?

Interviewed by Yahoo! Finance Canada, Dr. MacDonald says the workplace pension plan model can work well. “Workplace pension plans are a key element to retirement income security due to features like automatic savings, employer contributions, substantial fee reductions via economies of scale, potentially higher risk-adjusted investment returns, and possible pooling of longevity and other risks,” she states in the article.

Dr. MacDonald and her NIA colleagues are calling for something that builds on those principles but in a different, tax-free way, the article explains. The new Tax-Free Pension Plan would, like an RRSP or RPP, allow pension contributions to grow tax-free, the article says. But because it would be structured like a TFSA, no taxes would need to be deducted when the savings are pulled out as retirement income, the article reports.

“TFSAs have been very popular for personal savings, and the same option could be provided to workplace pension plans. It would open the pension plan world to many more Canadians, particularly those at risk of becoming Canada’s more financially vulnerable seniors in the future,” she explains.

And because the money within the Tax-Free Pension Plan is not taxable on withdrawal, it would not negatively impact the individual’s eligibility for benefits like OAS and GIS, the article states.

It’s an interesting concept, and Save with SPP will watch to see if it gets adopted anywhere. Save with SPP earlier did an interview with Dr. MacDonald on income security for seniors and her work with NIA continues to seek ways to ensure the golden years are indeed the best of our lives.

Cutting bad habits can build retirement security

Writing in the Greater Fool blog Doug Rowat provides an insightful breakdown of some “regular” expenses most of us could trim to free up money for retirement savings.

Citing data from Turner Investments and Statistics Canada, Rowat notes that Canadians spend a whopping $2,593 on restaurants and $3,430 on clothing every year, on average. Canadians also spend, on average, $1,497 each year on cigarettes and alcohol.

“Could you eat out less often,” asks Rowat. “Go less to expensive restaurants? Substitute lunches instead of dinners? Skip desserts and alcohol?” Saving even $500 a year on each of these categories can really add up, he notes.

“If you implemented all of these cost reductions at once across all of these categories, you’d have more than $186,000 in additional retirement savings. That’s meaningful and could result in a more fulfilling or much earlier retirement,” suggests Rowat. He’s right – shedding a bad habit or two can really fatten the wallet.

If you don’t have a retirement plan at work, the Saskatchewan Pension Plan is ready and waiting to help you start your own. The plan offers professional investing at a low cost, a great track record of returns, and best of all, a way to convert your savings to retirement income at the finish line. You can set up automatic contributions easily, a “set it and forget it” approach – and by cutting out a few bad habits, you can free up some cash today for retirement income tomorrow. It’s win-win.

Written by Martin Biefer
Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing, classic rock, and darts. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22

Dec 24: Best from the blogosphere – Feds want input on how to make retirement more secure

A look at the best of the Internet, from an SPP point of view

Feds want input on how to make retirement more secure

Retirement security is a hard thing to define, particularly if you are not yet retired.

Some imagine it as an upgrade from working – you’ll have more time to do all the things you want, no more slogging away at the office. Others worry if they will have enough savings to fund the kind of life they have now – or even a more austere one.

Workplace pensions are far rarer than they were in decades past, leaving most of us to have to create our own retirement security.

The federal government, reports Wealth Professional, is opening public consultations on the growing problem of retirement security. It wants to take a harder look at pension regulations, as well as (and perhaps, the article says, in light of the Sears pension debacle), “insolvency and bankruptcy laws.”

The consultations want to “improve retirement security for Canadians” by looking at ways to ensure workplace plans are “well funded,” and corporate decisions are better aligned with “pensioner and employee interests.” The government, the article notes, talks about the improvements that have been made to government pensions, such as the OAS and GIS.

We learned recently that Canadians ought to have saved 11 times their salary by the time they are ready to retire. But in an era when workplace pensions are scarce, how can such saving be encouraged? And how do we ensure folks don’t dip into the savings before it’s time to live off them?

If RRSP savings were locked in people wouldn’t be able to withdraw money until they reach retirement age, and at that point, if funds were be converted to an income stream people would be assure of income for life.

A second idea might be to add a voluntary savings component to the CPP; this has been floated before.

Another idea might be to create investment funds for the OAS and the GIS. Right now these benefits are paid 100 per cent via taxpayer dollars. If, as is the case with the CPP, some of the dollars could be diverted to investment funds, maybe that taxpayer portion of future benefit costs could be reduced.

The real challenge is getting people to save more. One can argue truthfully that there are plenty of great savings vehicles out there that just aren’t being fully used. Could the feds offer some new tax incentives to put money away?

It will be interesting to see what the government finds out on this important topic.

If you don’t have a pension plan at work – and even if you do – it’s always wise to put away money for retirement, which will come sooner than you think. The Saskatchewan Pension Plan offers a simple, well-run savings vehicle that is flexible and effective. You decide how much to put away, you can ramp it up or down over your career, and you get multiple options on how to receive a pension when the golden handshake comes. Be sure to check it out.

Written by Martin Biefer
Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. After a 35-year career as a reporter, editor and pension communicator, Martin is enjoying life as a freelance writer. He’s a mediocre golfer, hopeful darts player and beginner line dancer who enjoys classic rock and sports, especially football. He and his wife Laura live with their Sheltie, Duncan, and their cat, Toobins. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22

Your guide to upcoming CPP changes

In June 2016 federal, provincial and territorial finance ministers finally reached an agreement to expand the Canada Pension Plan. However, because the changes will be phased in over an extended period, there has been considerable confusion among many Canadians about how both CPP contributions and benefits will increase, and who the winners and losers will be.

The Globe and Mail reports that an expanded CPP is designed to address the shortfall in middle-income retirement planning that is occurring as a result of disappearing corporate pensions. “Most at risk are workers under the age of 45 with middling incomes – say, families earning about $50,000 to $80,000 a year,” note authors Janet McFarland and Ian McGugan. “Without the defined-benefit pensions that their parents enjoyed, many could hit retirement with little in savings.”

Here is what you need to know about the planned CPP changes.

Effects on CPP retirement pension and post-retirement benefit:
Currently, you and your employer pay 4.95% of your salary into the CPP, up to a maximum income level of $55,300 a year. If you are self-employed you contribute the full 9%.

When you retire at the age of 65, you will be paid a maximum annual pension of $13,370 (2017) under the program if you contributed the maximum amount each year for 40 years (subject to drop out provisions). People earning more than $55,300 do not contribute to CPP above that level, and do not earn any additional pension benefits.

The first major change will increase the annual payout target from about 25% of pre-retirement earnings to 33%. That means if you earn $55,300 a year, you would receive a maximum annual pension of about $18,250 in 2017 dollars by the time you retire — an increase of about $4,880/year (subject to the phase in discussed below).

The second change will increase the maximum amount of income covered by the CPP (YMPE) from $55,300 to about $79,400 (estimated) when the program is fully phased in by 2025, which means higher-income workers will be eligible to earn CPP benefits on a larger portion of their income.

For a worker at the $79,400 income level, CPP benefits will rise to a maximum of about $19,900 a year (estimated in 2016 dollars). Contributions to CPP from workers and companies will increase by one percentage point to 5.95% of wages, phased in slowly between 2019 and 2025 to ease the impact. The federal finance department says the portion of earnings between $54,900 and $79,400 will have a different contribution rate for workers and employers, expected to be set at 4%.

The enhancement also applies to the CPP post-retirement benefit. If you are receiving a CPP retirement pension and you continue to work and make CPP contributions in 2019 or later, your post-retirement benefits will be larger.

Impact on CPP disability benefit/survivor’s benefit
The enhancement will also increase the CPP disability benefit and the CPP survivor’s pension starting in 2019. The increase you receive will depend on how much and for how long you contributed to the enhanced CPP.

Impact on CPP death benefit
There is currently a one-time lump sum taxable death benefit of $2,500 for eligible contributors of $2,500. This amount will not change.

The main beneficiaries of the CPP changes will be young employees, who are less likely to have workplace pension plans than older workers. To earn the full CPP enhancement, a person will have to contribute for 40 years at the new levels once the program is fully phased in by 2025. That means people in their teens today will be the first generation to receive the full increase by 2065.

The recently released Old Age Security report from chief actuary Jean-Claude Ménard which includes the GIS illustrates how higher CPP premiums scheduled to begin in 2019 will ultimately affect the OAS program.

The report reveals that because of the planned CPP changes, by 2060, 6.8% fewer low-income Canadians will qualify for the GIS, representing 243,000 fewer beneficiaries. This will save the federal government $3-billion a year in GIS payments.

In other words, higher CPP benefits mean some low income seniors will no longer qualify for the GIS, which is a component of the Old Age Security program. The GIS benefits are based on income and are apply to single seniors who earn less than $17,688 a year and married/common-law seniors both receiving a full Old Age Security pension who earn less than $23,376.

Also read: 10 things you need to know about enhanced CPP benefits

Written by Sheryl Smolkin
Sheryl Smolkin LLB., LLM is a retired pension lawyer and President of Sheryl Smolkin & Associates Ltd. For over a decade, she has enjoyed a successful encore career as a freelance writer specializing in retirement, employee benefits and workplace issues. Sheryl and her husband Joel are empty-nesters, residing in Toronto with their cockapoo Rufus.

Should the age of CPP/OAS eligibility be raised?

Results from the 2016 census show that there are now 5.9 million Canadian seniors, compared to 5.8 million Canadians age 14 and under. This is due to the historic increase in the number of people over 65 — a jump of 20% since 2011 and a significantly greater increase than the five percent growth experienced by the population as a whole. This rapid pace of aging carries profound implications for everything from pension plans to health care, the labour market and social services.

“The reason is basically that the population has been aging in Canada for a number of years now and the fertility level is fairly low, below replacement levels,” Andre Lebel, a demographer with Statistics Canada told Global News. Lebel also projects that because over the next 16 years, the rest of the baby boom will become senior citizens, the proportion of seniors will rise to 23 per cent.

Therefore, it is not surprising that a new study from the C.D. Howe Institute proposes that the age of eligibility (AOE) for CPP/QPP, Old Age Security (OAS) and Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) benefits should be re-visited. The AOE is the earliest age at which an individual is permitted to receive a full (unreduced) pension from the government.

Other countries with aging populations are raising the AOE for social security benefits. These include Finland, Sweden, Norway, Poland and the United Kingdom. In 2012, then Prime Minister Steven Harper announced plans to increase the AOE for OAS and GIS from 65 to 67 between 2023 and 2029. However, Trudeau reversed this very unpopular legislation (leaving the AOE at 65) in the 2016 budget.

In their report Greener Pastures: Resetting the age of eligibility for Social Security based on actuarial science, authors Robert Brown and Shantel Aris say their goal is to introduce an “evidence-based” analysis that can be used impartially to adjust the AOE for Canada’s social security system based on actuarial logic, not political whims.

However, they do not argue that current systems and reform plans are unsustainable. In fact, increasing life expectancy and increasing aged-dependency ratios are consistent with the assumptions behind CPP/QPP actuarial valuations. However, they suggest that if there are relatively painless ways to manage increasing costs to the programs, then they are worthy of public debate.

Their calculations assume that Canadians will spend up to 34% of their life in retirement, resulting in recommendations for a new AOE of 66 (phased-in beginning in 2013 and achieved by 2025) that would then be constant until 2048 when the AOE would shift to age 67 over two years.

Brown and Avis believe these shifts would soften the rate of increase in the Old Age Dependency Ratio, bring lower OAS/GIS costs and lower required contribution rates for the CPP (both in tier 1 and the new tier 2). This, in turn, would result in equity in financing retirement across generations and a higher probability of sustainability of these systems.

However they do acknowledge that there are some important issues that would arise if the proposed AOE framework is adopted. One of these issues is the fact that raising the AOE is regressive. For example, if your life expectancy at retirement is five years, and the AOE is raised by one year, then that is a 20% loss in benefits. If your life expectancy at retirement is 20 years, then the one year shift in the AOE is only a five percent benefit reduction.

People with higher income and wealth tend to live longer, so the impact of raising the AOE will be greater on lower-income workers than on higher-income workers. Access to social assistance benefits would be needed to mitigate this loss. The study suggests that it would be easy to mitigate the small regressive element in the shift of AOS by reforming the OAS/GIS clawback as the AOE starts to rise.

The report concludes that having partial immunization of the OAS/GIS and CPP/QPP from increases in life expectancy is  and logical and would help Canada to achieve five attractive goals with respect to our social security system:

  • Increase the probability of it’s sustainability.
  • Increase the credibility of this sustainability with the Canadian public.
  • Enhance inter-generational equity.
  • Lower the overall costs of social security; and
  • Create a nudge for workers to stay in the labour force for a little longer .

It remains to be seen if or when the C.D. Howe proposals regarding changes to the AOE for public pension plans will make it on to the “To Do” list of the current or future federal governments.

Written by Sheryl Smolkin
Sheryl Smolkin LLB., LLM is a retired pension lawyer and President of Sheryl Smolkin & Associates Ltd. For over a decade, she has enjoyed a successful encore career as a freelance writer specializing in retirement, employee benefits and workplace issues. Sheryl and her husband Joel are empty-nesters, residing in Toronto with their cockapoo Rufus.

Pension-income splitting rules can reduce total tax bill

By Sheryl Smolkin

I retired from my corporate job with a defined benefit pension before I turned 55 and I opted to begin receiving my CPP at age 60. And by starting my own business as a workplace journalist I also created another significant income stream.

In contrast, when my husband retired at age 65 he did not have a pension and he elected to defer receipt of CPP and OAS for a year. He also decided not to convert his RRSP into a RRIF until he is required to do so at age 71. Therefore, other than withdrawing funds from our unregistered investment account, he had no source of income.  As a result, when it came to filing subsequent income tax returns, the disparity in our income made us ideal candidates to benefit from pension-income splitting which has been available since 2007.

The way it works is that if you are receiving income that qualifies for the pension income tax credit you’ll be able to allocate up to half of that income to your spouse or common-law partner (and vice versa) each year. You don’t actually have to write a cheque because pension income-splitting is merely a paper transaction done via your tax return.

The type of pension income that qualifies for the pension income tax credit of up to $2.000/year and that is eligible for pension splitting differs depending on whether you were 65 or older in the year.

  • If you were under 65 as of December 31, 2016, “qualifying pension income” includes life annuity payments out of a defined benefit or defined contribution pension plan and certain payments received as a result of the death of your spouse or common-law partner.
  • If you were 65 or older in 2016, other defined payments such as lifetime annuity payments out of your RRSP, DPSP or RRIF also qualify for the pension credit. Qualifying pension income doesn’t include CPP, OAS or GIS payments.
  • It is worthwhile noting that pension payments from SPP qualify for the pension income tax credit.

The extent to which pension income-splitting will be beneficial will depend on the marginal tax bracket of you and your spouse or common-law partner, as well as the amount of qualifying income that can be split. In many cases, the optimal allocation will be less than the allowable 50% maximum.

If you opt to pension split, a special election form (Form T1032) must be signed by the parties affected and filed with the CRA. If you file your return electronically, you should keep the election form on file in case the CRA asks for it. Another result of pension splitting is that the income tax withheld from your pension income will be reported on your spouse or common-law partner’s return, proportional to the amount of income being split.

Pension income splitting may also reduce the Old Age Security claw back while transferring income to your spouse who is taxed at a lower tax rate. In addition, your spouse can access the pension income credit of up to $2,000 for federal tax purposes and $1,000 for BC tax purposes, which would otherwise be unavailable without pension income.

The pension income splitting rules do not make spousal RRSPs obsolete, since spousal plans still have income splitting benefits for the years before you turn 65 or if you have not yet converted your RRSP to a RRIF or annuity. In addition, taking advantage of spousal RRSPs can increase your potential for withdrawals under the Home Buyers’ Plan and the Lifelong Learning Plan.

In 2014 and 2015 the Family Tax Cut credit provided a version of income splitting that allowed an individual to notionally transfer up to $50,000 of income to his or her lower-income spouse or partner, provided they have a child who was under 18 at the end of the year. The credit was capped at $2,000 annually. However, that form of income-splitting was abolished by the new Liberal government for 2016.

Other permitted forms of income splitting with family members are described here.

Does CPP expansion help low income earners?

By Sheryl Smolkin

Low earners stand to gain little from an expanded Canada Pension Plan (CPP), according to a new C.D. Howe Institute report. In “The Pressing Question: Does CPP Expansion Help Low Earners?”, authors Kevin Milligan and Tammy Schirle show the large differences in the net payoff from the expanded CPP for lower and higher earners.

Federal and provincial finance ministers agreed in June to expand the Canada Pension Plan. Under the status quo, CPP offers a 25% replacement rate on earnings up to a cap of $54,900. The expanded CPP will add a new layer that raises the replacement rate to 33.3% up to a new earnings cap of about $82,900 when the program is fully phased in by 2025.

To pay for this, both employer and employee contributions will be raised by one percentage point up to the existing earnings cap, and by four percentage points between the old and new earning caps. This expansion will be phased in during the period 2019 to 2025 for contributions, with benefits being phased in over the next 50 years commensurate to contributions paid.

This reform will substantially raise expected CPP benefits for most young workers now entering the workforce. For lower- and middle-earning workers, the higher replacement rate will lead to an eventual benefit increase of about 33% over existing CPP benefits.

For a high-earning worker, the maximum CPP benefits will increase more than 50% over the status quo. These expansions are large enough to make a noticeable difference for the younger generation of workers as the expanded CPP matures over the coming decades.

However, the C.D. Howe study authors note two important shortcomings of the new package hamper its effectiveness, both related to low earners.

First, low earners are already well covered by the existing suite of public pension benefits – many now receive more income when retired than when working. Why expand coverage where it is not needed? As a contributory pension, the CPP risks worsening the balance of income between working and retirement years for low earners.

Second, the income-tested withdrawal of some government-program benefits wipes out much of the impact of extra CPP benefits for many low-earners. Around one-third of Canadian seniors currently receive the income-tested Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS), so concerns about interactions with income-tested benefits have a broad base.

In order to be eligible for the GIS in 2016, a single, widowed or divorced pensioner receiving a full OAS pension cannot have over $17,376 individual income. Where a couple each receives a full OAS pension they will not be eligible for the GIS if their combined income exceeds $22,944.

To summarize these issues: expanding CPP for low earners risks making some Canadians pay for pension coverage they don’t need. To make matters worse, extra contributions may reduce the living standards of low earners today for modest net rewards in retirement tomorrow.

The CPP agreement-in-principle reached by the finance ministers may address some of these concerns by offering an improvement to the Working Income Tax Benefit alongside the CPP expansion. It is possible that an expanded WITB could effectively counteract increased CPP contributions by some low earners, but no details of the WITB expansion have been provided to date. Nevertheless, low earners would still face the problem of CPP-GIS interactions that undercut the impact of expanded CPP benefits.

In a Globe and Mail article, authors Janet McFarland and Ian McGugan also note that expanded CPP does not do much to help people who do not collect CPP in the first place. That describes many senior women who spent most of their lives as homemakers and so earned little or nothing in CPP benefits. About 28% of single senior women over 65 live in poverty, according to a study this spring for the Broadbent Institute by statistician Richard Shillington of Tristat Resources.

In addition they say the planned CPP changes will also do only a limited amount to help affluent savers because the maximum amount of income covered by the plan will increase to only about $82,800 by 2025. Therefore, those with six-figure incomes will still have to save on their own if they want a retirement income that will replace a considerable portion of their incomes above the expanded limit.

How spending declines with age

By Sheryl Smolkin

A recently retired actuary I once met at a conference told me that retirees worry primarily about their health and their money. Even retirement savings that seemed perfectly adequate when you hand in your office keycard for the last time seem to be eroded by the unrelenting drip, drip of inflation.

That’s why the lucky few who have indexed or partially indexed defined benefit pensions (most common in the public sector) are the subject of “pension envy” by the 80%-85% Canadians who do not have access to any form of workplace pension.

But according to a new C.D. Howe research paper by actuary Fred Vettese, retirees actually spend less on personal consumption as they age. He says, “This decline in real spending, which typically starts at about age 70 and accelerates at later ages, cannot be attributed to insufficient financial resources because older retirees save a high percentage of their income and, in fact, save more than people who are still working.”

Vettese cites evidence showing that compared to a household where the head is age 54, the average Canadian household headed by a 77-year-old spends 40% less. None of this drop in spending is attributable to the elimination of mortgage payments because they are not considered consumption. Much of the fall in spending at older ages was traced to reduced spending on non-essential items such as eating out, recreation and holidays.

The author focuses on public sector pension plans, which are fully indexed to inflation. His findings show that these plans could move to partial indexation, generating significant savings. “Given that more than 3.1 million active members are contributing to public-sector pension plans, the total annual savings could add up to billions of dollars, he says.” At the individual level, he suggests these savings would allow public-sector employees to increase current consumption or to reduce debt.

Given this phenomenon, cost-of-living indexation of workplace pension benefits could be reduced without sacrificing consumption later in life, Vettese concludes. He also notes that, “Reduced pension contributions would free up money to be spent today when families struggle to raise children and pay down mortgages on houses, thereby raising plan members’ collective economic welfare over their lifetimes.”

The average resulting reduction in required total employer/employee contributions to public-sector plans is of the order of $2,000 a year per active member. There are over three million active members in Canada’s public-sector DB pension plans, most of which provide full inflation protection or strive to do so to the extent that funding is available.

Nevertheless, Vettese says Pillar 1 (OAS/GIS) and 2 (CPP) pensions should not be subject to any reduction in benefits or contributions because these plans are generally designed to cover basic necessities, such as food and shelter. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, he believes it is reasonable to assume that spending on such necessities does not decline very much, if at all.

I have heard the three phases of retirement described as “go-go”, “slow-go” and “no-go.” My mother at 88 no longer drives a car and can’t to get out to shop very often anymore, so I am prepared to concede that many of her expenses have been reduced. However, her memory isn’t what it used to be and she has had several bad falls, so paying for 24-hour care in her own condo is a huge drain on her assets. Also taxis to multiple doctor’s appointments and medical supplies are expensive.

While Vettese suggests partially eliminated or reducing inflation-protection for indexed pension plans could allow public-sector employees to enhance current consumption and reduce debt, I’m not sure that’s necessarily a laudable or desirable objective. Mom saved and scrimped all her life and because my Dad was a disabled WW2 veteran she gets a tax-free, indexed pension for life. She also collects CPP and OAS.

I’m glad she has the additional disposable income so she can stay in her own apartment with the necessary support system as long as possible. Even though older retirees may no longer go on extended vacations or eat in fancy restaurants, they still have other equally compelling expenses in order to live out their remaining days in dignity and comfort.

Now if we could only figure out a way to help raise the bar for all seniors to be able to afford the same well-earned privilege.